There were 107 students in the hallway at the time, and those who did not react quickly enough, or who were too scared and shocked to understand what was happening, were thrown down and handcuffed.
A police dog sniffed residue on 12 book bags but found no drugs. Despite the failure to produce marijuana, principal George McCrackin, who launched the raid, said he would “utilize whatever forces that I deem necessary” to keep drugs out of the school. McCrackin had talked with police about what he called a growing drug problem at the school.
Lt.?Dave Aarons of the Goose Creek Police Department told the Times and Democrat that he watched school surveillance tapes (recorded on the 70 cameras McCrackin uses to spy on his students) from four days that showed students congregating under cameras, walking into a bathroom with different students and coming out moments later.
McCrackin denied the raid was excessive, even though the 2,700-student school has never had a reputation for drugs or crime, and went on to say: “I’m sure it was an inconvenience to those individuals who were on that hallway. But I think there’s a valuable experience there.”
Security camera footage of the raid was shown on national news channels a few days later. As police tried to calm the growing media storm, state investigators began probing into their actions.
After watching the tape of the raid, Solicitor Ralph Hoisington asked the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to look into possible police misconduct in the operation.
“I have serious concerns about the need for restraining students and drawing weapons,” Hoisington told the media. “I don’t want to send my child to a school and find out guns are drawn on them. I certainly don’t want them hog-tied as part of a sweeping investigation.”
Graham Boyd, director of the drug policy project for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was appalled by the raid. He said the way the search was conducted is illegal.
“You absolutely cannot bring police with guns drawn into a school,” he told The Charlotte Observer.?He said police must suspect individual students of drug activity, then any action taken must target those suspects.?He said that investigators should have called individual suspected students to the principal’s office to check their bags for marijuana.
The ACLU isn’t the only organization concerned about the raid. Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) national director Darrell Rogers called the raid a “graphic and disturbing example of the increasing criminalization of students.”
He said what SSDP wants to do is “provide a voice to help students speak more loudly and clearly to defend themselves and their rights. We are there to support the efforts of students and their families, and we will be working with other drug reform and civil rights groups to highlight this outrage.”
Civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson, concerned about the racism implicit in the raid, showed up during a four-day visit to lead a protest march. “The South deserves better than this.?These images and events keep us in a gutter,” said the Reverend.
The National Youth Rights Organization also got involved.?”What the police and principal conspired to do and carried out was a scene out of Iraq, not South Carolina,” said Alex Koroknay-Palicz, president of the group.?”Students are treated as second class citizens. The Supreme Court used to say the Constitution didn’t stop at the schoolhouse door, but now everything is reversed.”
Conversely, many people in the community supported the police raid and principal McCrackin. A group of Stratford teachers held signs for McCrackin as vehicles honked for 50 minutes. This display came after James Gallman, head of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), requested that the Berkeley County School Board dismiss McCrackin for inviting police into the school.
“The search seems to have been conducted in a part of the school frequented by African-American students who ride buses to school,” the state NAACP chapter said in a news release.
War on students
The Stratford incident is only one example of the ongoing escalation of raids, searches and school lockdowns across North America.
? School districts in Ontario and South Carolina have recently decided to purchase their own drug dogs, to be regularly used from the elementary level on up.
? Canadian police have agreements in place to do regular, random dog searches in British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and the Yukon, with other Canadian provinces moving in the same direction.
? Students in American schools have been suspended for things like taking Motrin for menstrual cramps and sharing an asthma inhaler in an emergency. A third-grade student in Alabama was suspended for five days in January 2003, because he took a multi-vitamin pill with his lunch.
? The Rhode Island Police Department announced in December 2003 that they would begin periodic lockdowns at a local high school, using drug-sniffing dogs while students are sealed in classrooms.
? A mother is threatening a lawsuit against her daughter’s Texas high school, after the assistant principal searched her 14-year-old for marijuana.
On December 11, 2003, the assistant principal personally searched 12 students, based on information from an unnamed informant. The plaintiff’s daughter claims she and other female students were “groped” as the assistant principal searched under their shirts.
No marijuana or other drugs were found. School officials have refused to release the name of the informant or the assistant principal.
Just say NO to drug testing
Drug testing is becoming increasingly popular in North American schools. Further, when schools are not testing students for pot, or using dogs to sniff out substances, they are thought-policing kids for their private communications on personal computers. Students are given locker license agreements to sign. And, disturbingly, school administrators have the right to search students.
The US Supreme Court upheld random drug testing for public school students participating in extracurricular activities.?The policy was called “a reasonably effective means of addressing legitimate concerns in preventing, deterring and detecting drug use.”
One real problem with drug testing students is that it just doesn’t work. A recent study published in the Journal of School Health found schools that drug test their students have the same rates of drug use as schools that don’t test.
Testing is also inefficient and expensive. A drug metabolite screen costs $10-30 dollars per student, and can often produce false positives. Certainly this money could be better spent by buying books, sports equipment and other learning aids. Money spent on drug testing comes from education budgets and goes straight into the pockets of drug testing companies.
Nevertheless, White House drug czar John Walters has been calling for more drug testing and policing of students.
Pot-TV’s Loretta Nall, leader of the US Marijuana Party, went to South Carolina armed with her video camera to investigate the raid and speak to the students about their experiences and feelings.
Nall raised important questions to the youths, like “Why wouldn’t the school contact the parents first if they suspected a student of having a drug problem? Why call the police?”
One young male student expressed his fear and anger, “They came in with loaded guns. They could have shot someone. That’s not right.”
Most of the students Nall met with are white, as is 80% of the Stratford High student body.?However, of the 107 students held during the raid, approximately 90 were black. “I looked down the long hall and saw the police lining up all these black students,” one white student told the New York Times, accusing the police of racism.
The best evidence for this accusation is the timing of the raid itself. At 6:45 in the morning most of the students present at the school were black children who had been bussed in. As soon as they arrived and began to fill the halls, McCrackin called down the raid.
Nall experienced the atmosphere of racism personally. During an interview at the rally for McCrackin, a passerby in a vehicle shouted at her, calling her a “white nigger,” presumably because she was associating with the families opposed to McCrackin, all of whom were black.
“It’s hard to believe there is anyplace more racist than Alabama,” said Nall, a resident of that state, “but I found it here.”
Principal McCrackin, buckling under the pressure of all the critical attention, has since resigned and changed jobs.
17 students launched a lawsuit against McCrackin, the Goose Creek school district, the city and the police department. The students are suing for unspecified damages, an injunction against another raid and a declaration that their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated. The students say they were terrorized and assaulted during the raid.
And what of the trauma experienced by these kids??”I would expect to see some degree of fear in students as a result of this operation,” said Dr. Ken Ruggiero of the National Crime Victims’ Research and Treatment Center. “This could trigger emotional reactions for these kids and that would be bad for them.”
Ironically, the trauma resulted not from criminal or domestic violence but from poor police behavior. How will kids feel now that they have been taught to see law officers as aggressors instead of protectors?
A failing grade
Despite their legal troubles, the Goose Creek police assert the raid was worth it no matter what the consequences because it “sent a message” to the students.
The only message sent to kids is that they have no rights, that they are presumed guilty, that they have no power to affect change, and that police can do whatever they want.
This attitude is antithetical to democracy. Citizens of a democratic country have a responsibility to challenge a tyrannical government, and even overthrow it. The current state of drug war has shrouded the population in so much fear, that what once would have enraged us, we now accept.
The Goose Creek raid is just another example of the war on drugs taking us to a very dangerous place. A place where school principals are militant, police are no more than official terrorists, and adults cannot be counted on to be advocates for their kids.
The only positive aspect of this incident is that the students of Stratford High, and countless other young people across North America who have experienced the injustices of the drug war, may now join or start chapters of organizations like Students for Sensible Drug Policy and try to alter the course of the future.
For they know now beyond a reasonable doubt that school is a dangerous place to receive an education, and that the biggest threat to their freedom is their own government.
? To watch video of the Stratford High police raid: www.pot-tv.net/shows/2294.html, www.pot-tv.net/shows/2350.html
? To watch Loretta Nall’s Pot-TV shows on the raid: www.pot-tv.net/shows/2313.html, www.pot-tv.net/shows/2320.html
? American Civil Liberties Union: www.aclu.org
? National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: www.naacp.org
? National Youth Rights Organization: www.youthrights.org
? Students for Sensible Drug Policy: www.ssdp.org